COVID and Vaccine FAQs
COVID-19 AND VACCINE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Who should get the vaccine? Should children?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the United States’ leading health care authority on COVID-19—strongly recommends that everyone aged 6 months or older get vaccinated.
Regardless of your age, health status, or how many times you’ve had COVID, being up to date on your COVID vaccinations is the best way to protect yourself and loved ones from the worst effects of COVID, including hospitalization or potential death.
Where can I get the vaccine?
We’re glad you asked! The Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) works with healthcare providers and community partners to provide residents free access to vaccines at various sites across the city. For hours and a location closest to you, visit here!
You might also be able to get vaccinated at your local pharmacy, though vaccine availability will vary.
What if I can’t afford the vaccine?
The Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) is committed to protecting the health of each of our residents, regardless of who they are or what neighborhood they live in. That is why BCHD, the Mobile Response Team, and our community partners will continue to provide Baltimore residents free COVID vaccines and take-home tests, regardless of their health insurance status.
To achieve this, BCHD and our partners will regularly provide clinics in neighborhoods across the city where residents can get vaccinated or receive take-home tests for free. For hours and a location closest to you, visit here!
Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe? Can they give you COVID-19?
The data shows that COVID vaccines are safe and work! In fact, millions of Americans have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring process in U.S. history. While some side effects such as headache, fatigue, muscle aches, or nausea are often mistaken for COVID-19, they are, in fact, signs that your body is building immunity to the virus; and will typically subside within a day or two.
That is why COVID vaccines have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). People who get the vaccine are also asked to report side effects, so we know they continue to be safe.
Finally, it’s important to remember that we’ve been here before. For instance, when the polio vaccine was invented in 1955, many were afraid of its potential side effects. But because of the safety and success of the polio vaccine, the disease has been effectively eradicated in the U.S.
How do the COVID vaccines work?
Simply put, the Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax vaccines use science to teach our cells to make a protein that then lets our bodies know it’s time for an immune response—one that specifically protects us from COVID. Pfizer and Moderna achieve this by mimicking COVID, without putting it into our bodies. This process is safe, does not change our DNA, and best of all, has approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Novavax, which also has FDA approval, is slightly different in that it uses harmless proteins from COVID to achieve the same response in our bodies.
But no matter which COVID vaccine you choose, it will not infect you with COVID. Instead, it will protect you from it.
Why should I trust the government when it tells me to get vaccinated?
You don’t have to trust politicians. But you should trust medical professionals, including your healthcare provider and child’s pediatric provider. The vast majority of experts strongly recommend COVID vaccines.
Even back in 2021, a survey by the American Medical Association indicated that more than 96% of practicing physicians were fully vaccinated and nearly half who weren’t, planned to.
Joining them are the 80% of Americans who have safely received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine—developed under the most intense safety monitoring process in U.S. history.
I’ve made it this far in the pandemic. Why should I get the vaccine now?
Behind heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injuries, COVID is still one of America’s four leading causes of death for the third year in a row. If you aren’t vaccinated, study after study shows that you have a significantly greater chance of getting COVID and spreading it to a loved one, being hospitalized, or even dying. You are also twice as likely to develop “long COVID,” which can last for years. Why keep taking that chance for yourself or the people you care most about?
But let’s be honest, getting COVID-19 is also a huge inconvenience. Many people with COVID have lost wages and had to use sick time at work. Many have also had to take time off to care for children or elderly loved ones who get COVID.
Even if you are lucky enough not to have severe symptoms, you should still quarantine for at least 5 days to protect those around you, which could cause you to miss your dream vacation, a once-in-a-lifetime wedding, or the game you have tickets to.
That means for those who are fully vaccinated, COVID no longer needs to control our lives. But for those who aren’t, every day you roll the dice.
What is long COVID? How does it differ than normal COVID?
Most people who are infected with COVID-19 will recover from their symptoms after a few days or a couple of weeks. However, those who develop “long COVID” have experienced symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, or chest pain, for weeks, months, or even years after their infection. In fact, 28% of Americans who get COVID have had long COVID.
While we still have much to learn about long COVID’s causes and long-term effects, we do know that being vaccinated reduces your risk of developing it by at least 50%.
I already have a COVID shot. Why should I get another?
The original vaccine plays a very important role in strengthening your body’s COVID-19 immunity. But over time, that immunity wanes. And like all viruses, the one that caused COVID-19 is constantly changing. Some variants are more transmissible than others. While some variants are more likely to cause severe disease or death. Each vaccine was developed to protect against the variants that posed the greatest risk at the time. That means if you aren’t up to date with your vaccines, you’re not as well protected against more recent variants like Omicron.
For instance, according to one recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the most recent vaccine was 58.7% effective against hospitalization compared to 25% for the original vaccine. The most recent vaccine was also 61.8% effective against infection compared to 24.9% for the original.
What are the differences between each of the vaccines?
The most important thing to remember is that just one shot of a COVID vaccine significantly decreases your likelihood of developing severe symptoms—or dying—from infection. But if you’re not up to date with COVID vaccines, you’re not fully protected from COVID, including the variants that developed in the last year.
For instance, when the first Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were released at the beginning of 2021, they were made to protect people from the earliest variants of COVID (to learn more about how each were developed, read our answer to the previous question: “How do COVID vaccines work?”).
However, in the time since, multiple variants of COVID have developed that are more transmissible. And like many vaccines, a vaccinated person’s immunity to the disease will wane over time. That is why Pfizer and Moderna each developed a booster shot that became available to the public in the summer/fall of 2021.
A year later, a bivalent vaccine was made available from Pfizer and Moderna to protect against the original and latest COVID variants, including Omicron’s dangerous subvariants. It is this vaccine that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommend a person have as soon as possible, even if they don’t have earlier versions of the vaccine.
How do I know which shot to get?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that everyone aged 6 years and older receive a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
In April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC announced that the immunocompromised are eligible to receive an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose, at least two months after their initial bivalent vaccine dose; adults aged 65 and older are also eligible to receive an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose, at least four months after their initial bivalent vaccine dose.
For young children, multiple doses continue to be recommended and will vary by age, vaccine, and whichever vaccines they previously received.
If you aren’t sure which shot you or your family is on, talk to your place of vaccination for clarity. We know vaccine guidance hasn’t always been easy to understand, but that’s all the more reason to make sure you and your loved ones are up to date on your vaccines, so you’re protected from the most recent and more transmissible strains of COVID-19.
What are the vaccines’ side effects?
Some people don’t experience any side effects, while others have minor discomfort for 1-2 days. This could include pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, or nausea. But it’s important to remember that side effects are a sign that your body is building its immunity to COVID. And whatever the short-term discomfort, it pales in comparison to the worst of getting COVID: severe disease or even death, the inconvenience of being sick for at least a week, or having to quarantine for five days no matter what your symptoms are.
Should I still where a mask?
A high quality, well-fitting mask will help protect you from getting COVID or spreading it to others, especially in crowded areas or small confined spaces where transmissibility is highest.
If you are at high risk for developing severe symptoms from a COVID infection (i.e., the immunocompromised, elderly, and/or those with multiple health conditions), you should strongly consider wearing a mask.
Even if you aren’t high risk but live or regularly spend time with someone who is, it is recommended that you wear a mask when with them indoors.
Should I still get tested for COVID? What if I can’t afford a test?
Testing is still one of the most important ways to protect others from COVID. If you have symptoms, you should immediately test yourself. If you think you were exposed to COVID but do not have symptoms, wait at least 5 full days after your exposure before testing. If you test too early, you may be more likely to get an inaccurate result.
You should also consider testing yourself before you make contact with someone at high risk for severe COVID.
If you need to get tested and can’t afford one from a store (for about $20 for a box of two tests), the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) continues to work with partners to provide free take-home tests at various sites across the city. For hours and a location closest to you, visit here.
We also encourage you to access free COVID tests at your local library. For locations and availability, check here.
What does the end of the COVID-19 National Public Health Emergency mean for Baltimore?
For three years, we’ve fought COVID-19 together to achieve a remarkable 81% vaccination rate. Because of our hard work, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved and we can now return—safely—to many of our favorite activities.
The end of the public health emergency is, therefore, a milestone we should all be proud of. However, COVID has not entirely gone away, and if you are high risk or not fully vaccinated, COVID can still cause severe disease or even death. That is why the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) prepared for this scenario by including vaccine and testing funding in our budget—enabling us and our partners to continue providing residents free vaccines and take-home tests, regardless of health insurance status.
To achieve this, BCHD and our partners will regularly provide clinics in neighborhoods across the city where residents can get vaccinated or receive take-home tests for free. To learn more about BCHD’s COVID-related services, visit our website here.
You should also know that Medicaid programs will continue to cover COVID-19 treatments like Paxlovid without cost sharing through September 30, 2024. After that, coverage and cost sharing may vary by state.
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